June 24, 2008
Project Kashmir, 2008
The specter of the Partition of Bengal in 1947 continues to haunt the modern day consciousness of a divided Kashmir in Senain Kheshgi and Geeta Patel's provocative and acutely observed Project Kashmir. Propelled by the idea of capturing the Kashmir conflict from a Hindu and Muslim perspective, Southeast Asian-American friends Kheshgi and Patel attempt to navigate the murky waters of occupation and a deeply factionalized insurgency - often fueled by extremists - that define the volatile dynamics of everyday life in Kashmir. Guided on their journey by a Muslim newspaper journalist, Muzamil Jaleel (who immediately cautions them against taking anyone's perspective as truth, including his own), his friend and colleague, Aarti Tikoo Singh, a displaced Pandit Hindu now living in Jammu, and human rights activist, Khurram Parvez, who lost his leg in a car bombing, the filmmakers witness first hand the incalculable toll of the corrosive 60 year war: the almost ritualistic, random detention of local villagers at a detention facility each morning to root out possible insurgents, the profound distrust not only between the majority Muslim population and the Indian military who administer the region, but also within the population itself, the ruins of a destroyed Hindu temple and abandoned Pandit village after the intimidation and forced expulsion of the Pandit minority a decade earlier from the Kashmiri Valley. But as the filmmakers begin to struggle with the human tendency to gravitate towards the familiarity of their own culture, Patel becomes increasingly conscious of her identity as an Indian and Hindu woman in a Muslim society, and Kheshgi, the daughter of parents who lived through the trauma of the Partition, finds kinship with the struggle to end the occupation. In hindsight, the filmmakers' unorthodox contact with an anonymous guide who offers his candid, protective advice solely by telephone provides an insightful glimpse into the necessary first steps towards breaking the impasse, a bridging of broken bonds through communication and gestures of humanity that is poignantly captured during Singh's emotional return to her decimated childhood home where she is eagerly invited to tea by a persistent villager, who responds to the question of his immediate recognition of his former neighbor by remarking, "the scent of Kashmiri is the scent of one."